International Meeting for Autism Research: Joint Engagement and Joint Attention Skills During Mother-Child and Preschool Teacher-Child Play

Joint Engagement and Joint Attention Skills During Mother-Child and Preschool Teacher-Child Play

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
1:00 PM
A. Kaale1,2, L. Smith3, E. Sponheim1 and A. J. Nordahl Hansen4, (1)Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway, (2)Centre for child and adolecent mentalt health, Oslo, Pakistan, (3)Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Oslo, (4)University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
Background: Children with autism have problems sustaining joint focus with others around an object or event (Adamson, Bakeman, Deckner, & Romski, 2009). However, little is known about the patterns of joint engagement and joint attention when the children are playing with their mothers compared to their preschool teachers. More knowledge about this area could contribute to higher quality interaction in both dyads.   

Objectives: This study compares the pattern of interaction during play between young children with autism and their mothers and their preschool teachers with a focus on a) duration of joint engagement and b) frequency of joint attention skills.

Methods: Fifty-eight children (46 males) with a diagnosis of autistic disorder (age M = 49 months, SD = 8, range 29-60/developmental age M = 28 months, SD = 12, range 9-59) participated. Dyads of mother-child and preschool teacher-child were provided with a standard set of toys and instructed to play as they would do in a natural setting, and then video taped for 10 minutes. First each play session was coded for duration of six mutually exclusive engagement states (unengaged, on-looking, person engagement, object engagement, supported joint engagement and coordinated joint engagement) (Bakeman & Adamson, 1984). Duration of mother/preschool teacher-child JE was calculated from percentage of total time (subtracting time out of camera) in supported and coordinated JE, combined. Subsequently, frequency of child initiation of joint attention (alternate gaze, show, point and give) was coded.

Results: Preschool teacher-child dyads spent significantly more time in joint engagement (mean 56 %, SD = 24, range = 10-98) compared to mother-child dyads (mean 47 %, SD = 22, range = 2-91) (t = 2.47, p = .016). In contrast, the children showed significantly more joint attention skills during play with mothers (mean 1.2, SD = 1.8, range = 0-8) compared to play with preschool teachers (mean .5, SD = 1.2, range = 0-5) (t = 2.77, p = .008). Most of the time the mother-child and preschool teacher-child dyads were in joint engagement was due to mothers (95%)/preschool teachers (98%) joining the children’s focus of interest, while only a small percentage of the time was spent in coordinated joint engagement (mothers 5%, preschool teachers 2%).

Conclusions: The difference in joint engagement and joint attention in mother-child and preschool teacher-child dyads suggests that the closeness of the relationship between the child and the adult is more important for the quality of the interaction than child characteristics. Further, it is noteworthy that although the preschool teachers were longer in joint engagement with the children, compared to mothers, they still experienced less child initiated joint attention. Altogether these findings point to the importance of the emotional connection in joint attention. Maybe also well established play routines are of importance. Further, the results suggest that the association between joint attention and joint engagement is weaker than previously thought. More studies investigating the relation between joint engagement and joint attention in different contexts are needed.

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